New department will track economic equity in Harris County

An estimated 64 disadvantaged businesses, 152 minority-owned businesses and 81 women-owned businesses operate across the Spring and Klein area’s nine ZIP codes.
An estimated 64 disadvantaged businesses, 152 minority-owned businesses and 81 women-owned businesses operate across the Spring and Klein area’s nine ZIP codes.

An estimated 64 disadvantaged businesses, 152 minority-owned businesses and 81 women-owned businesses operate across the Spring and Klein area’s nine ZIP codes.

Image description
An estimated 64 disadvantaged businesses, 152 minority-owned businesses and 81 women-owned businesses operate across the Spring and Klein area’s nine ZIP codes.
A new department in Harris County set to launch in March will seek to bring equity to economic opportunity countywide. The initiative comes after county officials made equity a focus of other spending discussions, including mobility, flood control and public health.

The Harris County Department of Equity and Economic Opportunity is a culmination of two years of research, community input and stakeholder meetings, said Sasha Legette, a member of the Harris County Precinct 1 policy team that helped get the project off the ground.

Long term, officials said they hope to develop policies and programs to help business owners, workers and job seekers. In its first year, the focus will fall on the county’s own contracting process.

“We’re hoping to see a more proactive engagement and innovative policies and programs to address economic disparities and cure historic disinvestment,” Legette said.

Two additional studies are also underway this year—one in transportation and one in public health—that are meant to further guide on how equity can be incorporated into those areas.


Entrenched discrimination

In 2018, Harris County Commissioners Court approved a study into disparities in how the county selects firms to contract with on projects. Conducted by the consulting firm Colette Holt & Associates, the study showed the county could be passive in marketplace discrimination.

The study examined 478 contracts worth about $1.26 billion, including 1,433 subcontracts worth about $280.49 million, the county approved between 2015 and the first quarter of 2019. Although about 71.6% of businesses in the market for county contracts are “non-M/WBEs”—a term referring to businesses not owned by a minority or woman—about 90.9% of contracting dollars went to those firms.

Only 9.1% of county dollars went to minority and women businesses, including only 0.5% to Black-owned businesses, the study found. This yielded a disparity ratio—which measures how often the county contracts with those businesses divided by their availability—of 32%, according to the study.

“A very lower ratio suggests entrenched discriminatory barriers,” lead researcher Colette Holt said. “Thirty-two percent is very, very low.”

Linda Morales, an organizing coordinator with the Texas Gulf Coast AFLCIO, said the group wants to ensure these communities are prospects for good jobs that offer upward mobility and fair pay. The group was a stakeholder in creating the department.

An estimated 64 disadvantaged businesses, 152 minority-owned businesses and 81 women-owned businesses operate across the Spring and Klein area’s nine ZIP codes. The data, which comes from a city of Houston directory, includes firms that could benefit from the new county initiative, including construction, engineering and consulting.

Bobby Lieb, president and CEO of the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce, urged business owners to learn how to properly bid on government projects through the U.S. Small Business Administration to avoid getting in over their heads.

“Bidding on government contracts is a whole different animal, and if a business is not in the practice of doing work for the government, if not executed properly [it] could negatively impact their regular business operations,” he said.

Economic, physical health

Efforts to improve economic opportunity in disadvantaged communities can have direct effects on physical health as well, said Heidi McPherson, the senior community health director with the American Heart Association in Houston. McPherson said raising incomes and promoting career development align with the AHA mission of ending chronic disease, as better jobs mean better access to health care.

Life expectancies across Harris County vary, with more socially vulnerable areas in the 65-69 range and wealthier areas in the 85 and older range, according to a 2020 study by the Harris County Public Health Department. Central areas of Spring and Klein, where social vulnerability is lower, have a life expectancy of 80-84 years, while the areas near FM 1960 and I-45 have a life expectancy of 75-79 years.

Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, the CEO of Harris Health System, said an updated report will be provided to Harris County commissioners in March. County officials also want to expand services in high-need areas, he said.

“Are we in the right places? Are there opportunities in some of the geographies where we should be but currently are not?” he said.

McPherson said communities have different needs, ranging from healthy food to access to purified drinking water and hike and bike trails.

“It feels like collectively across the Greater Houston area, we really do have the opportunity to lead the nation,” she said.

Hannah Zedaker contributed to this report.
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.


MOST RECENT

More than 180,000 doses have been administered in the Spring-Klein area as of April 12. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
Spring, Klein vaccine rollout: More than 27,000 doses administered in past week

Some 186,223 doses have been administered in the area, and 71,463 residents have been fully vaccinated as of April 12.

Costco Business Centers, of which there are only about 15 in the country, carry different products and provide a different shopping experience to members than do traditional Costco Wholesale stores. (Courtesy Costco Wholesale)
Costco Business Center being built in Stafford; see live music in The Woodlands and more top Houston-area news

Read the top business and community news from the Houston area from the past week.

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations. (Courtesy Amazon)
Amazon begins rollout of statewide vaccination clinics for employees

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

The gumbo pie is a House of Roux original. (Courtesy House of Roux)
House of Roux coming soon to Old Town Spring

The new cafe will offer traditional Cajun cuisine for lunch and dinner with menu items ranging from boudin to gumbo pie—a House of Roux original.

The concept, which is subject to change, would provide walking trails, a running track, pavilions for gathering, barbecue equipment, workout equipment and possibly a dog park facility, Walkoviak said. (Courtesy Cy-Champ PUD)
Cy-Champ Public Utility District places $5.6M park bond on May 1 ballot

The proposed bond is a continuation of a $7 million park bond previously approved by voters in 2005 that fully funded the development of Cy-Champ Park, which opened at the intersection of Cutten and Hargrave Roads in 2008.

The project included the addition of newly landscaped areas, complimentary surface parking, LED lighting and new entry signage as well as the removal of several former retail and multipurpose buildings on HCA's 21-acre campus to allow for more green space near the hospital's main entrance. (Courtesy HCA Houston Healthcare Northwest)
HCA Houston Healthcare Northwest unveils multimillion-dollar campus beautification project

The project included the addition of newly landscaped areas, complimentary surface parking, LED lighting and new entry signage as well as the removal of several former retail and multipurpose buildings on HCA's 21-acre campus to allow for more green space near the hospital's main entrance.

Located near the intersection of Schroeder Road and Cypresswood Drive, Prestonwood Park comprises 153 single-family homes and is zoned to Cy-Fair ISD. (Graphic by Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Check out April's featured neighborhood in Spring, Klein: Prestonwood Park, 77070

Located near the intersection of Schroeder Road and Cypresswood Drive, Prestonwood Park comprises 153 single-family homes and is zoned to Cy-Fair ISD.

Here's how the Spring-Klein real estate market fared in February. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
See how the Spring, Klein real estate market fared in February

The median price of homes sold also increased year over year in all Spring- and Klein-area ZIP codes.

Officials said the district has spent millions on pandemic-related needs. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Cy-Fair ISD: Federal stimulus funds needed to help cover $227M in unexpected pandemic-related expenses

According to data from Cy-Fair ISD, the district has incurred nearly $227 million in unexpected costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal funding is set aside for public schools to address effects of the pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Why Texas has not yet distributed $18 billion in federal funds intended for public schools

As budget decisions loom for school districts across Texas, state leaders are holding on to federal funds intended for public schools to use in addressing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Homes priced above $750,000, such as this one in the Heights, saw a surge in sales in March, with almost twice as many properties sold. (Courtesy Houston Association of Realtors)
Average Houston single-family home price jumps 20% in March

The average sale price for a home in March was $370,847.